This Is How the World Ends
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This is how the world ends.
This is how they die.
This is how the world ends.
How did we survive?

Atanti's thoughts drifted to his homeland. Now that it was the warm season, the land and people would be brimming with life. Grasses would be springing up everywhere for picking and crafting. Swarms of Snaes would be ticking through the air as children attempted to catch them. Great feasts would be held by his family in the fields and meadows.

At least, that would have been what he was thinking about, if he wasn't running for his life through the underbrush. It had been poor luck indeed, running into the Koitern's men on a simple expedition. Thankfully, they were only explorers themselves, meaning that the Koitern was likely still worlds away and that Atanti still had a chance of survival. Still, even the explorers were ruthless and bloodthirsty, not to mention that they outnumbered Atanti eight to one.

Atanti ducked into one of the more familiar tunnels he was exploring, and, after several more minutes of running, managed to shake off his pursuers. They had originally been riding north-east at a rapid pace, meaning that they were most likely only scouting, and had only stumbled on him and this site by accident. By that logic, they would most likely be gone in a few hours.

Rather than simply lie down and wait out the rest of the time, Atanti chose to use his head-start into the cave to explore further, then return to his encampment as the suns began to set. After a few more hours of traversing the tunnels and caverns, the sparse rooms and architecture grew more and more frequent, until Atanti found himself inside a large and well decorated room.

Atanti reviewed the knowledge he had of the caverns and tunnels. They were most likely built by the Oom peoples millenia back. The towering idol at the far end of the cavern matched the image of Sutkak, a large, green trident covered in straight, pointed horns. The Oom believed that Sutkak would be the one god to survive the end of the world. They also, strangely enough, believed that he was the god of music. Given the giant icon of Sutkak, and the structure of the room, Atanti reached the conclusion that this was the rumored Grand Chamber of Sutkak. The Oom had believed that this chamber was the ark that would carry them through catastrophe. They believed that it would allow them to survive the end of the world, that it would make them immortal.

While reveling in the beauty of the room, Atanti couldn't help but think of the prestige that his discovery would bring to the ql-Paneus, or even the Paneus in general. These thoughts of grandeur were rudely interrupted by a resounding "CLANG!" The doors of the chamber had shut behind him. It was impossible. Atanti had checked the room for traps as soon as he had entered. There was no reason that the door should have closed, unless…

Panic rose in Atanti's hearts as ancient singing began to emanate from the statue at the end of the room. His thoughts turned to his wife and children, brothers and sisters. He had to get to them, had to save them. When the storm struck the ark, hairline fractures began to appear in reality, but it did not break. The ark held. The resolve holding back Atanti's tears did not.

An old woman lay in bed, surrounded by her friends and family. She sang one last lullaby to them, her parting gift. She told them that, though they might mourn her now, she hoped to see them all in paradise one day. And then she died.

While her family mourned below, her free spirit soared upwards. Up, up, up it shot to paradise, as the ages peeled away from her soul. And then there was no paradise. Or damnation. Or home. There was nothing but emptiness and her. Then, suddenly, something in the distance. Two lives coming together, and a third about to form. A new life, a haven. The spirit lent itself to the new life, gaining a new innocence. Losing its past, but not its nature.

Edrisek was having the time of their life. They and their family were the finest known Slufna team, and tonight was their finest performance. For those of you who are unfamiliar with Slufna, it is the perfect harmony between dance, acrobatics, song, drama, and reality warping. It is, in short, art in its purest form.

Edrisek twirled through the air and time, constantly tangling with and unfurling from those around them. They were the star of the show, and the audience loved them. Tonight would be the peak of their career, for they were planning to unveil their most beautiful and closely guarded secret. For years upon decades, Edrisek had practiced for a single maneuver. A move so brilliant that it would allow them to transcend reality, if but for a moment, before splashing back into it in all their glory.

The moment of truth came, and they launched themself high into enlightenment, witnessing wonders beyond description. A timeless moment which seemed to last forever. They only trailed the smallest piece of themself in reality, as you might dangle your feet in a pool.

Then, a great shock swept them off their feet, sending them tumbling downwards. They didn't land back in the familiar sea of reality that they knew, but in a chaotic torrent of bewildering creation. As they sank, the waves settled. No more audience. No more family or Slufna. No more familiarity. No more home.

Evuruct sat in his study, trying his hardest not to let the gravity of the situation sink in as he added the finishing touches to his machine. Perhaps it was best not to survive, to let all things have their end. Then again, perhaps the machine would serve its purpose, to give one living soul a chance at survival, no matter how infinitesimal that chance may be.

He had not told his family about the end, of course. Best to let them die happy. He had solved the equations a thousand times, searching for a way out. The storm was unstoppable, but there was the slightest chance that one could survive it. He hadn't told his family about the machine either, no sense giving them a hope that was almost certainly false.

With a few more circuits and the flip of a switch, the machine hummed to life. Evuruct closed and locked the door to his study, then headed downstairs to spend a few last hours with his family.

The Koitern stared out past the horizon. The mighty Koitern, feared by all, slaughterer of a tenth of the world. The Koitern, with his heart of stone. He watched as the empire he had created ceased to exist. He watched as the oncoming storm approached his throne room, filled with the blood and filth of all those he had executed with his own hands.

There was a legend about the Koitern. It was said that he would not kill you so long as you met his gaze. That some force of mutual defiance stayed the hand of death. Most disregarded the legend. Few tried it, but those that did found it to be true. Unfortunately, no one could meet his eyes forever. What no one knew was that the reverse of this effect was also true; the Koitern would not kill any who met his gaze, but none whose gaze he met could kill him.

And so, the Koitern looked the end of the world in the eyes.

This is how the world grows older.
This is how we die.
This is how the world grows older.
Why did we survive?

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